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Manchester City’s Champions League failure could mean a new squad is needed to get back to the top



Manchester City's Champions League failure could mean a new squad is needed to get back to the top

Manchester City are out of the UEFA Champions League after Real Madrid defeated the reigning title holders 4-3 on penalties in Wednesday’s quarter-final. Pep Guardiola’s side drew 1-1 on the night, meaning extra time as last week’s 3-3 draw made it 4-4, but the Premier League giants could not find a winning goal. Instead, Carlo Ancelotti’s men triumphed from the spot to set up a semi-final against Bayern Munich for a place in the final against either Paris Saint-Germain or Borussia Dortmund.

What comes next for City will be very interesting as a repeat of the 2023 treble was possible until Antonio Rudiger successfully converted his penalty for Los Blancos. Failure to match that performance inevitably brings with it a period of reflection. On the face of it, there isn’t much to be ashamed of going out on penalties to UCL winners Real, but it makes any potential success for the rest of this season less of an achievement when compared directly to what came before.

Guardiola and City always struggled to match the importance of their first-ever Champions League title, but defending their treble felt good until their departure here. For the EPL leaders, domestic glory may not taste the same as continental success given their incredible form over the past year in Europe, which was expected to continue here. Now that it has been denied, they need to look at what went wrong and what areas can be improved. There are a few of those, despite what initially seemed to be the best team in the league.

First things first, does Guardiola have the appetite to return to the Etihad Stadium with the rebuild required if City are realistically going to challenge for UCL honors again? The Catalan tactician may need a few weeks to answer that Premier League and FA Cup success is not necessarily enough to convince Guardiola of an immediate return to European success. Given the links with international management, the 2026 World Cup on the horizon and the need to rotate some of these players, he could effectively conclude that he has done as much as he can in Manchester.

If Guardiola decides to try and rebuild this City side, there are also big question marks over who he will want to rebuild with. Kevin De Bruyne is not getting any younger and has increasing injury and fitness problems, while Kyle Walker is also doing well and came close to leaving last year. Such was the case with Bernardo Silva flirting with exit, while Jack Grealish has largely fallen off the radar over the past year and could leave this summer.

Ilkay Gundogan already moved to Barcelona last summer and his leadership and experience were difficult to replace, without even addressing the issue of Erling Haaland. The fact that the Norway international did not score regularly at the end of last season’s competition did not matter as his teammates managed to catch up. Further anonymous displays during these two quarter-finals raise legitimate questions about Haaland’s goal-scoring ability in the biggest games, which is not much different from rival strikers in weaker European competitions.

But Kylian Mbappé just scored twice as PSG defeated Barcelona to reach the semi-finals with a fairly quiet overall performance in Paris and Catalonia, should Haaland really be exempt from that kind of questioning? The fact that Guardiola withdrew him before the penalties were even a done deal suggested that the Scandinavian star was considered ineffective against an elite opponent like Real, who could see the likes of Julian Alvarez grow in importance in the coming years.

Overall, it doesn’t have to be a knee-jerk reaction from City, but there are genuine questions that need to be answered now and the response to them could be unexpected. The task ahead for the Premier League club, regardless of the EPL title race and FA Cup results, would be significant and this has only added further considerations to the situation. Whatever happens, expect City to look very different the next time they take the field in a Champions League match.